The Greatest Prayer - Week 7: "Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

This week I am continuing the sermon series that I've been preaching on the Lord's Prayer, entitled "The Greatest Prayer."  We've been going line by line through the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, and this week we are studying "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..."

Throughout each of the sermons I've preached in this series, I've lifted up how each of the lines of the Lord's Prayer is full of meaning that we tend to gloss over on our way to other things.  As a result, we end up "saying" the prayer rather than "praying" it. 

When we pray "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil"  I think what we are actually praying is, "We are forgiven but not completed."  We'll come back to this in a moment...

How would you define "temptation?"  Most of us would say that temptation is what happens when you are given an opportunity to fulfill a desire---one that is hard to resist.  We also tend to identify temptation with the desire for things that are bad for us, or destructive in the end.  Temptations are different for each of us, and they change over time.  What tempts us when we are young, may not be as alluring when we are older.

I read a story this week about an older man who was walking through a park with his young grandson.  As they strolled they noticed a large frog had hopped right into their path.  When they approached the frog it didn't move at all.  It just sat there bold as brass.  Suddenly, it spoke to them in a woman's voice, "I am an enchanted princess.  If you kiss me, I will turn into the most beautiful woman you have ever seen and I will be hopelessly devoted to you."  The old man paused for a moment and then picked up the frog.  Rather than kissing, he put it in his jacket pocket and zipped it up.  His grandson asked, "Grandpa, why didn't you kiss the frog?  It would have turned into a beautiful woman!"  The old man replied, "At my age, I don't really feel like I could handle a beautiful young woman, but I could make some serious money off of a talking a frog!" 

Even though our temptations may change or differ, we all face them each and every day.  And this line of the Lord's Prayer helps us to understand how we should pray as we face them.  Before we go any further, though, we need to address the obvious tension that exists on the surface of this part of the prayer.  Does God really lead us into temptation?  Does God place temptations in front of us in order to test us?  Some people might argue that this is the case... that God is some sort of Divine Seducer that is always trying to see if His children really have what it takes to follow Him.

I don't think this is the case.  I don't believe for a minute that God actively desires His children to be tempted.  My reason for believing this is partly based on my gut feeling about God, and partly on my understanding of the phrase, "lead us not into temptation."

When you break down the words in this phrase, you see that the word "temptation" is most often used in the ancient Greek to mean "trial" or "test." When you use this meaning to guide your interpretation, you get a few variations:  "lead us not to the time of trial," "keep us from gambling on our souls," "let us not succumb at the time of trial," "have us not brought into temptation or trial," the list goes on...

What we discover as we dig deeper is that this has less to do with our basic understanding of temptation as an alluring promise of desires fulfilled and more to do with challenge and struggle.  What Jesus wanted his disciples to be praying here is not an exercise in logic, but a cry of the soul.  So many Christians live in fear of temptation, and spend a great deal of energy trying to live in a Christian ghetto to never encounter it.  I grew up in this kind of Christian community.  To be tempted meant that there was something wrong with your life---you were too worldly.  Real Christians didn't worry about temptation, because they never put themselves in situations where they were tempted.  Obviously, that's not true.  Jesus didn't ask his disciples to pray a well-reasoned argument why God should separate them from everyone and everything that might tempt them.  This was a gut wrenching plea that God strengthen and hold up his people when their faith, their resolve, their character was tested.

By the way, there's nothing wrong with temptation.  In fact, it's a sign of spiritual health that we pause before making choices during a time of challenge.  Being tempted doesn't make you a bad person.  The choices we make when we are challenged, however, do form and inform our future, but the moment of temptation is not a negative moment---we'll talk more about that later.

 In Matthew 4:1-11 Jesus is sent by the Spirit of God into the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan.  He is tempted in three ways: Privately, Publicly and Corporately.  I'll explain. 

After spending 40 days fasting in the wilderness, Jesus is weak and hungry.  The Tempter hits him right where he is weakest.  "If you are the Son of God," he tells him, "turn these stones to bread."  Satan always seems to know where we are vulnerable, and usually goes right for that weak spot, doesn't he? 
Next the Tempter takes Jesus to the top of the Temple and dares him to throw himself off because if he is the Son of God, God won't let him die before his time.  In fact, God would save him in such spectacular fashion, that everyone would know that he was the Son of God.  How many times are we tempted by greed, success, power, glory?
Finally, Satan takes Jesus on a bird's eye view of the kingdoms of the world.  He declares that if Jesus would worship him, that he would give all of the kingdoms of the world to him---essentially removing his "sway" over them.  But in so doing, Jesus would deny God.  I think that so many of us are tempted to deny God's work in the world by our apathy, our fear and our reluctance to make a difference.  We gripe and complain about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket, but keep kneeling in front of the Enemy when we do nothing to change it. 

What most of us don't get is that temptation is two-fold.  When we face temptation or challenges in our life we are given the opportunity to make a positive choice rather than simply avoiding a poor one.  For example, when we are challenged with lust, we have an opportunity to choose the purity of love.  When we are tempted to be dishonest, to gossip or speak killing words we are given the opportunity to choose integrity.  When are tempted to be angry, we are given the opportunity to choose self control.

And here's something else about temptation and challenges...  There is a little word that connects "Forgive us our debts..." and "Lead us not into temptation..." that makes a huge difference for us.  That little word is "and."  What this tells us is that we are forgiven, and we need to live differently as a result.  We have received grace, but it shouldn't make us foolhardy.  So many battles of sin are lost through our failure to put our defenses after forgiveness takes place. 
How many times do we confess the same sins over and over again?  What do we think it's going to take to help set us free from repeating our mistakes? 

I read a story about a husband and wife who argued over her spendthrift ways when it came to clothes.  Her husband told her that the next time she was tempted to buy new clothes that she should quote Jesus words, "Get thee behind me, Satan!"  The very next day she came home with a new dress.  When her husband spluttered in anger, and asked her why she hadn't resisted the temptation, she told him, "I did exactly what you told me!  I tried this dress on and as I was standing in front of the mirror, I said 'Get thee behind me Satan!' and Satan got behind me and said, 'Girl, you should see this dress from the back, it makes your thighs look awesome!'"

Our defenses should be far behind the line of attack when it comes to temptations that seem to plague us.  I read a great quote this week, "If you flee temptation, don't leave a forwarding address."  Although we shouldn't fear temptation, and should see it as an opportunity to make a positive choice, we also need to be realistic.  If we know where we are weak, we know what we need to do to avoid getting attacked in our weak spots.  C.S. Lewis believed that when we get closer and more intimately connected to God,  we start seeing clearly where we need to place our defenses. 

To be completed, we need to understand some things.  First we need to know that we are made for victory instead of defeat.  Through the power of the Resurrection we have victory over sin and death.  Sometimes it doesn't feel that way, though.  Far too many people give up in life because they believe they will never stop doing whatever destructive thing they are being tempted or challenged to do.  This is a lie from the Enemy.  Ultimately, sin has no power over us.  We don't have to be afraid.

We also have an example in Jesus that is clear and present.  In Jesus we see what we could be, what God desires us to become.  Just because I know that I could never be exactly like Jesus, doesn't mean that I should give up trying.

Finally, we need to make sure that we are traveling with some "creative" companions.  In other words, we need to choose to walk with people who are into creation rather than destruction.  If we are constantly surrounded by people who choose poorly when challenges arise, we will eventually find ourselves doing the same.  I can't tell you how many young people I've led during my youth ministry days who told me that they could "hang" with anyone from any group.  I've had so many young girls sit in my office to tell me that their boyfriend who was pressuring them to party and have sex was just misunderstood.  Hardly any of these stories end well. 

We are forgiven, but we are not completed.  This is the phrase that should guide us as we face the many temptations and challenges of life.  There is some effort required on my part in order to choose positively when I am tempted.  I need to admit my weakness, and brokenness, but not use it as a crutch.  I need to celebrate that I've been forgiven, but not rest on my laurels.  Forgiven... but not completed...  "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil..." 

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